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Thomas Family Correspondence
The Thomas correspondence comprises fifty letters and one note; all but two of these date from the months between January 1862 and November 1863. Thirty-five of these items were written by George Thomas from the field, to his wife Minerva in Rockport. Eleven more were written by Minerva to her husband. The group includes four additional wartime letters addressed to the Thomases, including one written to Minerva by her nephew, Ezra B. Sherwin, then serving in the 14th Wisconsin Infantry. As one might expect, the military content of Thomas's letters has less to do with combat than with the logistics (and frustrations) of troop movement and supply, up and down the waterways of the Mississippi Valley. Otherwise, Thomas discusses subjects familiar from many another soldier's letters: his health (which was not robust, and which he fears will be permanently broken by his service); pay (always late); the local progress of the war (on which he is often quite well informed); acquaintances in the army; questions and instructions relating to affairs at home. Throughout the letters Thomas also reveals a keen interest in the surrounding land, and its potential for agriculture. An irony of the correspondence is the military content of several of Minerva Thomas's letters to her husband: there was a good deal of Confederate "guerilla" activity in the area around Rockport. Organization of the 53rd Indiana was completed on 26 February 1862. Thomas's first surviving wartime letter dates from but two days later, following the 53rd's arrival at Camp Morton in Indianapolis to guard Confederate prisoners captured in Grant's victory at Fort Donelson, Tennessee. Over the following weeks Thomas was obliged to oversee the regiment's transportation south, by rail and steamer. His letter of 27 April 1862 describes the movement of the 53rd (now attached to Grant's Army of Western Tennessee) up the Tennessee River from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing. The goal was the nearby railway center of Corinth, Mississippi (which would be evacuated by its Southern defenders on 25 May). Pittsburg Landing had been the site, on 6-7 April, of the battle of Shiloh, whose appalling casualty totals — 20,000 killed and wounded — were to that point in the war unprecedented. Thomas's wonderment at the firepower brought to bear by the contending armies, as evidenced by the devastation of the landscape, was echoed by many other observers, as was his sense that "It does not look to me as if a man could have taken any position and have remained in that position and escaped." The numbers Thomas cites to rationalize the Union performance at Shiloh are grossly inaccurate. In fact, each side had around 40,000 men on the first day of the battle, while Union reinforcements gave Grant a decided numerical advantage on the second day. Though aligned with the Union, the Ohio River border area of Kentucky and Indiana had mixed political sympathies, and was the scene of much Confederate guerilla activity. In her letter of 20 September 1862, Minerva Thomas writes of an attack on the town of Owensboro, Kentucky, located only a few miles down the Ohio from Rockport. In most of its essentials her account is accurate. A Confederate force of around 500 men did take Owensboro, killing the Kentuckian commanding the garrison. Colonel John W. Crooks' 4th (Spencer County) Regiment of the Indiana state militia crossed the river and drove the Confederates from the town. Crooks then pursued the retreating Confederates and defeated them at Panther Creek, eight miles from Owensboro. Several weeks later, on the occasion of another threat against Owensboro, the Indiana state militia declined to cross the river. The correspondence sheds no light on Thomas's military career after 3-4 November 1863, when he wrote Minerva from Natchez, Mississippi. The previous March he had written of seeking to resign from the army because of ill health: "If there should be indications of my having as protracted a spell as I had before I will feel it to be my duty, as much as I should regret the necessity of seeking to have my Resignation accepted." Thomas does not reintroduce the subject in his subsequent letters, but on 15 May 1864 he did in fact resign his commission, having served the 53rd Indiana as quartermaster for more than two years.